Works of Stalin 1926
Speech Delivered at a Meeting of the Presidium of the E.C.C.I. August 7, 1926;
Source: J. V. Stalin, Works Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1954, Vol. 8;
Comrades, even before Murphy's speech, the C.C., C.P.S.U. (B.) had received a letter from the Central Committee of the British Communist Party protesting against the declaration of the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions1 on the general strike in Britain. It seems to me that Murphy is repeating here the arguments of that letter. He put forward here chiefly formal considerations, one of them being that the disputed issues had not been the subject of joint discussion with the British Communist Party beforehand. I admit that this last point of Murphy's has some justification. The Comintern has indeed at times had to take decisions without preliminary agreement with the Central Committee of the British Communist Party. But there were extenuating circumstances: the urgency of some of the questions, the impossibility of getting in touch speedily with the C.C. of the British Communist Party, etc.
As to Murphy's other considerations and arguments relating to the A.U.C.C.T.U. and its declaration, it must be said that they are quite incorrect.
It is incorrect to assert that the A.U.C.C.T.U. committed a formal error in issuing the declaration, on the grounds that in doing so it was taking upon itself what was allegedly a function of the Profintern or the Comintern. The A.U.C.C.T.U. has as much right to issue a declaration of its own as any trade-union or other association. How can the A.U.C.C.T.U. be denied this elementary right?
Still more incorrect is the assertion that by its declaration the A.U.C.C.T.U. infringed the rights of the Profintern or the Comintern, that the Profintern and the Comintern are injured parties whose interests suffered damage. I must inform you that the A.U.C.C.T.U. issued its declaration with the knowledge and approval of the Profintern and the Comintern. That, indeed, explains why neither the Profintern nor the Comintern has any idea of accusing the A.U.C.C.T.U. of having infringed its rights. Therefore, when Murphy attacks the A.U.C.C.T.U. on this point, he is as a matter of fact attacking the E.C.C.I. and the Profintern.
Lastly, it must be regarded as absolutely impermissible on Murphy's part to assert as he did that the A.U.C.C.T.U.'s criticism of the General Council, and its declaration generally, constitute "interference " in the internal affairs of the British Communist Party; that the A.U.C.C.T.U., being a "national organisation," has no warrant for such "interference." It is most deplorable to hear Murphy repeating the "arguments" put forward by Pugh and Purcell at the Paris meeting of the Anglo-Russian Committee. These are precisely the "arguments" that Pugh, Purcell and Citrine advanced the other day against the A.U.C.C.T.U. delegation. That alone is an indication that Murphy is in the wrong. The substance, the essence of the matter must not be disregarded because of formal considerations. A Communist cannot behave in that way. The affairs of the British miners would be in much better shape and the incorrect actions of the General Council would have been exposed if, side by side with the A.U.C.C.T.U., the "national" trade union federations of other countries, those of France, Germany, etc., say, had also come forward with a criticism of the General Council. It is not as an error on the part of the A.U.C.C.T.U., but rather as a service to the British workers that the publication of its declaration criticising the General Council should be regarded.
That is all I wanted to say in connection with Murphy's report, taking into account mainly the formal aspect of the matter.
I might have confined myself to that, in so far as the issue concerns the formal aspect of the matter. But the fact is that Murphy did not confine himself to the formal aspect of the matter. He needed this formal aspect in order to secure certain substantial results of a non-formal character. Murphy's tactics consist in using formal grounds as a camouflage, and taking advantage of certain formal shortcomings in the activities of the E.C.C.I., in order to secure definite decisions here on matters of substance. It is therefore necessary to say a few words about the substance of Murphy's arguments.
What is Murphy really out for?
To put it crudely, what he is out for is to compel the A.U.C.C.T.U. to stop criticising the General Council publicly, to compel the A.U.C.C.T.U. to keep silent and "not to interfere" in the "affairs of the General Council."
Can the A.U.C.C.T.U., or our Party, or the Comintern agree to that?
No, it cannot. For what would compelling the A.U.C.C.T.U. to keep silent mean, how would its silence be understood, at a time when the General Council is working to isolate the British miners now on strike and is paving the way for their defeat? To keep silent under such circumstances would mean keeping silent about the sins of the General Council, keeping silent about its treachery. And to keep silent about the General Council's treachery, when it and the A.U.C.C.T.U. have joined in a bloc in the shape of the Anglo-Russian Committee, would be tacitly to approve its treachery, and, consequently, to share with the General Council the responsibility for the latter's treachery in the eyes of the labour movement of the whole world. Does it need further proof that the A.U.C.C.T.U. would be committing political and moral suicide if it were to take this course, if it were even for a moment to renounce public criticism of the General Council's treachery?
Judge for yourselves. In May, the General Council called off the general strike, betraying the British working class in general, and the British miners in particular. Throughout June and July, the General Council did not lift a finger to help the striking miners. More, it did everything in its power to pave the way for the miners' defeat, and thus punish the "recalcitrant" British Miners' Federation. In August, at the Paris meeting of the Anglo-Russian Committee, the General Council leaders refused to discuss the proposal of the A.U.C.C.T.U. representatives on assistance to the British miners, despite the fact that the General Council had raised no objection to the agenda proposed for the meeting by the A.U.C.C.T.U. We thus have a whole chain of betrayals on the part of the General Council, which has got involved in rotten diplomacy. But Murphy demands that the A.U.C.C.T.U. should close its eyes to all these outrages and put a seal on its lips! No, comrades, the A.U.C.C.T.U. cannot adopt this course, for it does not want to commit suicide.
Murphy thinks that it would have been more fitting if the declaration against the General Council had been issued by the Profintern, as an international organisation, and if the A.U.C.C.T.U., as a "national" organisation, had passed a brief resolution associating itself with the Profintern's declaration. Looked at from the purely formal angle, there is a certain architectural harmony of a departmental kind in Murphy's plan. Looked at from that angle, it has a certain justification. But looked at from the political angle, Murphy's plan will not stand criticism. There is no need to prove that it would not have had one-hundredth part of the political effect that the A.U.C.C.T.U.'s declaration has undoubtedly had, in the sense of exposing the General Council and politically educating the masses of the British workers. The point is that the Profintern is less known to the British working class than is the A.U.C.C.T.U., it is less popular than the latter, and, consequently, carries far less weight. But it follows from this that the criticism of the General Council should have come precisely from the A.U.C.C.T.U., as the body enjoying greater prestige in the eyes of the British working class. No other course was possible, for it was necessary to hit the mark in exposing the treachery of the General Council. Judging by the howl raised by the reformist leaders of the British labour movement over the A.U.C.C.T.U.'s declaration, it may be said with confidence that the A.U.C.C.T.U. did hit the mark.
Murphy thinks that public criticism of the General Council by the A.U.C.C.T.U. may result in a rupture of the bloc with the General Council, in the break-up of the Anglo-Russian Committee. I think Murphy is mistaken. In view of the very active assistance the A.U.C.C.T.U.'s rendering the miners, a break-up of the Anglo-Russian Committee may be considered out of the question, or almost out of the question. This, in fact, explains why nobody fears a break-up of the Anglo-Russian Committee more than the representatives of the General Council majority, Purcell and Hicks. Both Purcell and Hicks, of course, will try to blackmail us with the danger of a rupture. But you must be capable of distinguishing between blackmail and the real danger of a rupture.
Besides, it should be borne in mind that for us the Anglo-Russian Committee is not an end in itself. We did not join, and shall not remain, in the Anglo-Russian Committee unconditionally; we joined it on definite conditions, included among them being the right of the A.U.C.C.T.U. freely to criticise the General Council, equally with the right of the General Council freely to criticise the A.U.C.C.T.U. We cannot renounce freedom of criticism for the sake of respectability and maintaining the bloc at all costs.
What is the underlying purpose of the bloc? It is to organise joint action of the members of the bloc against capital in the interests of the working class, and joint action of the members of the bloc against imperialist war and for peace among the peoples. But what if one of the parties to the bloc, or certain leaders of one of the parties, violate and betray the interests of the working class, and thus render joint action impossible? Surely, we are not expected to praise them for such errors? Consequently, what is necessary is mutual criticism, the elimination of errors by means of criticism, so as to restore the possibility of joint action in the interests of the working class. Hence, the Anglo-Russian Committee has meaning only if freedom of criticism is guaranteed.
It is said that criticism may result in discrediting certain reactionary trade-union leaders. Well, what of it? I see nothing bad in that. The working class stands only to gain by the old leaders who are betraying its interests being discredited and replaced by new leaders loyal to the cause of the working class. And the sooner such reactionary and unreliable leaders are removed from their posts and replaced by new and better leaders who are free from the reactionary ways of the old leaders, the better it will be.
This, however, does not mean that the power of the reactionary leaders can be broken at one stroke, that they can be isolated and replaced by new, revolutionary leaders at short notice.
Certain pseudo-Marxists think that one "revolutionary" gesture, one vociferous attack, is enough to break the power of reactionary leaders. Real Marxists do not, and cannot, have anything in common with such people.
Others think that it is enough for Communists to work out a correct line, and the broad masses of the workers will instantaneously turn away from the reactionaries and reformists and instantaneously rally around the Communist Party. That is quite wrong. Only non-Marxists can think that. In point of fact, a correct Party line and the understanding and acceptance of that line as correct by the masses are two things that are very far apart. For the Party to win the following of vast masses, a correct line is not enough; for that it is necessary, in addition, that the masses should become convinced through their own experience of the correctness of the line, that the masses should accept the Party's policy and slogans as their own policy and slogans, and that they should begin to put them into effect. Only on this condition can a party with a correct policy really become the guiding force of the class.
Was the policy of the British Communist Party correct during the general strike in Britain? Yes, it was. Why, then, did it not win the following of the millions of workers on strike? Because those masses were not yet convinced of the correctness of the Communist Party's policy. And it is not possible to convince the masses of the correctness of the Party's policy in a short time. Still less is it possible with the help of "revolutionary" gestures. It requires time and unremitting energetic work in exposing the reactionary leaders, in politically educating the backward masses of the working class, in promoting new cadres from the working class to leading posts.
From this it is easy to understand why the power of the reactionary leaders of the working class cannot be destroyed all at once, why this requires time and unremitting work in educating the vast masses of the working class.
But still less does it follow from this that the work of exposing the reactionary leaders must be dragged out over decades, or that the exposure can come of itself, of its own accord, without causing any offence to the reactionary leaders and without violating the "sacred rules" of respectability. No, comrades, nothing ever comes "of itself." The exposure of reactionary leaders and the political education of the masses must be done by you yourselves, the Communists, and by other political Left-wing leaders, through unremitting work for the political enlightenment of the masses. Only in that way can the work of revolutionising the broad masses of the workers be accelerated.
Lastly, one further remark in connection with Murphy's report. Murphy insistently harped on the specific features of the labour movement in Britain, on the role and significance of tradition in Britain, and, as it seems to me, he hinted that because of these specific features the ordinary Marxist methods of leadership may prove unsuitable in Britain. I think that Murphy is on a slippery path. Of course, the British labour movement has its specific features, and they must certainly be taken into account. But to elevate these specific features to a principle and make them the basis of activity is to adopt the standpoint of those people who proclaim that Marxism is inapplicable to British conditions. I do not think that Murphy has anything in common with such people. But I do want to say that he is near the fringe where the specifically British features begin to be elevated to a principle.
A word or two about Humboldt's speech. Humboldt, in raising an objection, says that criticism must not be empty and pointless. That is true. But what has that to do with the A.U.C.C.T.U. and the R.C.C.I., whose criticism is absolutely concrete? Was the criticism of the heroes of "Black Friday"2 empty criticism? Of course not, because now, when "Black Friday" has already become a matter of history, this criticism is being repeated by all and sundry. Why, then, should the criticism of the treachery of the General Council leaders during the general strike and later, when the miners are continuing their strike, be called empty criticism? Where is the logic in that? Was the treachery at the time of the general strike less fatal than the treachery on "Black Friday"?
I am opposed to the method of criticism of individuals suggested by Humboldt if it is recommended as the basic method. I think that we should criticise reactionary leaders from the angle of their general line of leadership, and not of the individual peculiarities of the leaders themselves. I am not opposed to criticism of individuals as a subsidiary, auxiliary means. But I hold that the underlying basis of our criticism should be principles. Otherwise, instead of criticism from the standpoint of principle, we may just get squabbling and personal recrimination, which is bound to lower the level of our criticism to the detriment of our work.
1. The Declaration of the A.U.C.C.T.U.—the appeal “To the International Proletariat”—issued in connection with the betrayal of the British general strike by the reformist leaders of the Labour Party and of the T.U.C. General Council, was adopted by the Fourth Plenum of the A.U.C.C.T.U. on June 7, 1926. It was published in Pravda, No. 130, June 8, 1926.
2. The heroes of “Black Friday”—the reactionary British trade-union leaders—Thomas (railwaymen). Hodges (miners) and Williams (transport workers)—who called off the strike of railwaymen and transport workers in support of the striking miners which had been fixed for April 15, 1921, a day which, in consequence, came to be known among the British workers as “Black Friday.”